Monday, January 2, 2017

Attending eLearning Africa Conference in Egypt

Arriving in Cairo
In May 2016, it was my joy and privilege to attend the 11th eLearning Africa Conference www.elearning-africa.com in Cairo, Egypt. I was able to attend the Conference with the support of the e/Merge Africa Network of which I am part of the co-ordinating team. Travel to Cairo was almost like the legendary Cape to Cairo as I first flew to Johannesburg using South African Airways and then connected from Johannesburg to Cairo using Egypt Air. Those that have transited through OR Tambo International Airport before will realize that it is a busy airport and has a lot to offer the traveller who would want to shop, relax and eat a good meal before the next flight. I was able to meet my niece and the husband with their kids on my return flight from Cairo at the airport where we had a nice breakfast meal. Flying from Johannesburg to Cairo took a total of almost seven hours. We landed in Cairo at about 04 00 AM and settled in our hotel by about 07 00 AM. 

Conference Venue
The eLearning Africa Conference was held at the majestic Royal Kempinski Hotel. I would not be exaggerating to say that it was one of the best Conference venues where the eLearning Africa Conference has been held. Definitely it had one of the best rest rooms I have seen in a Conference venue with a place to hang coats and some warm face cloths to dry one’s hands after their business in the rest rooms. The meals were excellent and the Conference hosts were on point. Those that are familiar with Arabian hospitality know that they go out of their way to make visitors feel at home. This I experienced on the flight, at the Conference venue and at the hotel.




Conference Highlights
The highlights of the Conference were:

  • The Keynote speeches that were delivered.
  • The Spotlight sessions. I especially enjoyed the sessions that were done by Professor Johannes Cronje of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) and Dr. Maggie de Beukes of the University of Namibia. Prof. Cronje spoke on how he had taken advantage of the #feesmustfall Campaign in South African universities to engage with students, using technology with social media such as WhatsApp for example, during the students protests this enabling learning to continue uninteruppted . Dr Beukes spoke on how she had managed the change at University of Namibia in the Centre for Open Distance and eLearning so that all staff were on board. 
  • e/Merge Africa Pre-Conference Session: It was a delight to organize this session and lead a discussion where we tackled a Higher Education challenge that some participants were facing using a methodology called “Peer Assist”  
  • Chairing a session on Blogger Skills for Self-employed, Small and Medium Enterprises where two researchers made excellent presentations on: Africa Talks eLearning: A New Online Learning Platform for Journalists by Casey Frechette from the University of South Florida, USA and Facilitating Distance Learning in a Virtual Classroom: UNSSC Success Factors, Tools, Tips and Techniques by Moyomola Bolarin from the United Nations Staff College (UNSSC) in Italy.
  • Viewing the exhibition by Biblica Alexandria, one of the world’s oldest library. The Library uses technology a lot and  strategically through digital museums making it easier to view ancient Egyptian artifacts from various angles which can not be done in a physical museum. 
Exploring Cairo
It was a pleasure to explore parts of Cairo during our spare time and after the Conference. The Conference hosts organized a very powerful dinner for participants outside the Gize Pyramids. The performances and narration of the pyramids during the dinner was excellent. We also witnessed the launch of Sa Wawa an Innovation Company which was done in flamboyant style. 

Together with the e/Merge Africa team, I visited the Police Museum which afforded us a panoramic view of Cairo. We then proceeded to the Size Pyramids as we bypassed the majestic River Nile. Words do not give me justice to explain our experiences as I saw the ancient Pyramids for the first time. Suffice to say I was lost in wonder to notice such majestic construction which was done many hundreds to years ago before most parts of the world had experienced civilisation. We were as it were taken back in time as we rode on camels and horse chariots through the desert to have a clearer view of the pyramids. After this visit we visited a shop where were taken through the process of how painting is done on papyrus with all of us buying governors from the shop and also buying perfumes downstairs made from natural plants. What a historic and educative trip this was to Egypt, one of the leading tourist destinations in Africa! Below is a photo of Jerome, myself and Mohammed at the Pyramids.



















Some observations
  • Cairo is one of Africa’s most populated cities. We stayed in New Cairo with a population of 5 million while old Cairo has 20 million people! Imagine that!
  • Egypt has strong family ties. Outside our hotel we would see families coming to relax and have meals every evening. In old Cairo we saw families having tea in the streets as late as midnight when we were returning form the Conference organized dinner.
  • The strides made in ICTs especially ICTs in education were evident during the eLearning Africa Conference. There is much that other African nations can learn from Egypt with regards to use of technology in teaching and learning. 
  • The Egyptians are very hospitable and love to welcome visitors. 



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